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Goin’ Japanesque!

Satsuma Buttons: An Innovated Edo-era Fusion of East and West

The buttons of old Satsuma are not so well-known by the people of Japan, made as they were not for domestic markets but for export internationally. However, these examples of traditional Japanese craft have an undeniable charm.

 

What Are Satsuma Buttons

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Satsuma buttons are a type of ceramic button based on Satsuma ware, a traditional ceramic craft of Kagoshima (whose western half was once called Satsuma Province). These delicately-constructed and minute discs are decorated on the millimeter scale with tiny pictures. Even now, they are in much demand among overseas collectors in particular.

 

The History of Satsuma Buttons

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In the Edo period, the lords of the Satsuma domain needed to fill their war chests so that they could oppose the Tokugawa Shogunate. To assist this fundraising, Satsuma buttons were brought into production. Made primarily for export, together with kimono these buttons came to receive considerable attention worldwide as representative of Japanese craft.

 

The Virtues of Satsuma Buttons

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More than anything, Satsuma buttons are remarkable for fusing the occidental with the oriental. During the Edo period, the Japanese clothing culture was still based on kimono, so the concept of a “button” wasn’t yet in existence. The buttons of Satsuma were a combination of Eastern and Western culture: this fastener of European origin came to be decorated with contemporary scenes of Japanese Edo life. In this age of information technology, our sense of distance globally has shrunk considerably, but at the time the fusion seen in Satsuma buttons was incredibly innovative and stylish. Moreover, there is a kind of delicate cracking to the highest quality of Japanese ceramics called “crazing,” and these fine cracks make for a work of exceptional character. Crazing thus becomes an aspect of the art form.

 

It’s only natural that Satsuma buttons would be seen as antiques, but there have been people who treasure them as a kind of jewelry, as well. So, how many of our readers had heard of Satsuma buttons before this? There are fewer and fewer artisans producing them every year, so the buttons themselves grow scarcer. As for you who already knew about Satsuma buttons, we applaud your detailed knowledge of Japanese crafts!

Related:
The Three Great Porcelains of Japan: Their Histories and Characters
Netsuke: Indispensable Item for Edo Kimono Fashion

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